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Fun with fabrics

Display at Z Gallerie at Northlake Mall.
Display at Z Gallerie at Northlake Mall. JASON E. MICZEK

You know that tan sofa that seemed like such a bargain in the furniture showroom – the one your mother insisted was a great investment because it wouldn’t show dirt? And those wooden end tables that looked classic back then, but now just look tired and plain?

And the formal dining table at which nobody eats except on major holidays, that doubles as a filing cabinet? And the bedroom that you’ve never quite gotten around to decorating the way you wanted, because you can’t afford to buy a matching suite?

Take heart.

You may feel like you’re living in the Land of Beige – boring, bland and blah – but you’ve got the ideal canvas for a wonderful, and wonderfully inexpensive, home makeover.

Look no farther than your closest fabric store.

“You can transform a room with pretty fabrics,” says Sheryl Kowalczyk, who runs Custom Draperies & Home Décor out of her UCity home. “With window treatments, for example, you can change it up from a summer look to a winter look with panels on the same rod. Even with ready-made curtains, you can get this effect very economically. Pillows are also a good option to add some color and not spend a lot of money.”

Kowalczyk mentioned Pottery Barn, Pier One, IKEA and Tony’s Decorator Fabrics as good places to start.

UCity-based interior designer Michelle C. Buchheit is also a big proponent of using fabrics to give zest to any room in need of some change. “I call myself a fabric snob,” says Buchheit. “You can do so much with small amounts of fabric that’s both simple and cheap. I love pillows and throws, for example, especially on a neutral background. Having draperies custom-made may not be the most cost-effective way to make changes to a room, but you can take pieces of cloth and layer them on a table for a nice additive, decorative touch.”

Hiring a designer as a consultant for an hour or two can help homeowners flesh out ideas about how to use fabric strategically throughout the house, she says, especially if their budgets won’t allow a major purchase such as furniture or carpet.

Angela Melvin, of the family-owned It’s Your Home store in Northlake Mall, has built her business on the premise that beautiful fabrics are the foundation of beautiful rooms. “We start by asking our customers, ‘What do you like? How long are you going to live there? How much do you want to invest?’ If someone is going into an apartment, they need to think about versatility and portability, as opposed to someone who’s moving into a house that they’ve had custom-built.

“On the other hand, this is their home. They have to live with these colors and items, and they need to choose things they enjoy. Life’s too short to surround yourself with things you don’t like. So we try to guide customers to find the look and feel that’s right for them, and not to get caught up in the resale value,” says Melvin.

It’s Your Home stocks a variety of draperies and bedding, including sectional bedskirts and duvet covers, but also does custom work for all rooms, including table linens.

“Fabrics can dress up any room in the house, even the bathroom,” says Melvin, “and give it a luxurious look. You shouldn’t worry about (the fabrics) being too matchy-matchy,” but rather allowing one’s personality shine through.

For those whose tastes run to the exotic, check out African Clothing Liberty Services & Fabrics, 3720 N. Tryon St. Owner Judith F. Osei Tutu stocks a wide variety of fabrics from her native Ghana as well as other African countries.

As she shows her colorful wares, Osei Tutu gives suggestions about how they can be used in home décor: Authentic mudcloth from Ghana can be framed as a picture or used to cover furniture. Ashokaye fabric from Nigeria and Kuba cloth, handwoven from raffia in Congo, can be used for pillows, table runners or seat cushions. She also sells ready-made safari-themed placemats from South Africa. They can be coordinated with table napkins made from Ghanese cotton.

Although many of Osei Tutu’s unusual imports are used for clothing, she sells a substantial amount for home accents, as well. “I’ve had customers who used these fabrics for draperies and furniture upholstery,” she says. “But most people like to use them sparingly, so the fabric doesn’t overpower the rest of the room. Even a little splash of color – say, in a pillow or fabric draped over a curtain rod to create a valance for your window – can be eye-popping.”

Al Bell, a visual merchandizing specialist at Z Gallerie at Northlake, concurs. “If you’re bored with a room, there’s lots you can do with a little – like buy a new throw or a couple of pillows. Bottom line is that fabrics are quick, cheap and versatile. And you can change your mind and do something else next week!”

Want to go?

African Clothing Liberty Services & Fabrics

3720 N. Tryon St.

Z Gallerie, Northlake Mall

6801 Northlake Mall Drive #201